It’s a pleasant home. I’d forgotten what life is like with comfort – Chris Moyles, breakfast TV, internet, film on 4, Radcliffe and Marconie, Twitter, FB, The Guardian online and a fridge with food that belongs only to me – but comfortable is stationary – fixed, still, static – comfortable is the death of anticipation and the excitement of not knowing – not knowing where-next, who-with, how-long and sometimes even why. Comfortable is, nice parties, full plates, shitting while sitting,walking streets knowing what is around the next corner. Comfortable is routine and routine scares me.
… ‘The bus pulled into the curb. It was day. Just. And the eight-hour travellers left the bus with the legs of the infirm. Snow-covered-mountains surrounded Huaraz and bicycles with trailers, or flatbed-fronts, pushed by men wearing dress-trousers looking as fatigued as our legs, milled in the cold three-thousand metre air. Through megaphones fastened to the side of the bikes, tinny-voices screeched in Quechua and women hiding beneath broad brimmed felt hats stood next to carts lined with bottles that contained day-glow green and fluorescent blue and shocking pomegranate pink. Colour, to be added to agua caliente, bubbling and steaming in a scorched-black kettle. Dogs picked food-bits from between cobbles. Pigs squealed. And cockerels crowed a welcome for the westerner who had escaped… Escaped for the time being anyway’…
Between writing words I train, between the sentences I train, between the paragraphs I train … and I train and over-train … And when I train I see snowed up rock, icefall and the wan red-light of early morning breaking between mountains. Between star jumps I feel the sting of sleep deprivation. Between press ups, I feel the hotaches. And between pull-ups the altitude blisters lung skin…
… Early morning. Wrapped in a duvet jacket, sitting in the gymnasium office, I nurtured a cup of coffee. I listened to the muffled rattle of the food trolleys being trundled along cold corridors. Thirty minutes left. Counting.
The first class, Monday Wednesday and Friday, was running. Over the years the prisoners in the running class had learnt to understand my early morning idiosyncrasies, and I had learnt to understand theirs. Three miles around an oval cinder track that bordered the muddy football pitch. The track was surrounded by a tall fence, and beyond that, the prison’s wall. Thirteen laps run with the strategy and cunning of an espionage plot. The speed would increase with every lap while we pretended not to be concerned, while we pretended to look at the ground and not to have noticed the opposition. When Terry first came to Gartree he was slightly chubby, but now he was lean and fit, he pushed the pace. Gary pushed also. But Gary was only there for himself and his ghosts. Barry was the real competition, Barry loved the competition. And so did I.
Lap thirteen. By this time a lung-bursting crescendo had been reached. The last lap was always a sprint while spitting lung skin. But no matter what the result, we returned to the prison laughing and joking.
The second class of the day, Circuit training. Machismo-fuelled competition. Brutality in the guise of getting fit. The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, heavy House music shook the steel walls and bounced off the cavernous roof of the sports hall. Strip lights lit the way for me and twenty or so inmates to beast ourselves with frenetic and competitive insistence. Star jumps, press ups, burpees, squat jumps, shuttle runs, sideways ski jumps over benches, sprinted laps of the hall, and double bench step ups. We were nearly fighting each other to get past.
Sweat sprayed. Eyes darted from side to side to check out cheating. The plastic floor beneath our pounding feet became sticky. The air thick with hot body odour. “You didn’t do all your star jumps… cheating wanker.” “Fuck you.” …
While I bask in comfort and write, my friends climb routes in the Alps, in perfect weather and my aching over-training body complains – shoulders, ankle, calf – “I’ve got the poison, I’ve got the remedy, I got the pulsating rhythmical remedy” – But nothing aches as much as those imagined moves – moves taking me over rock and snow and ice. Nothing aches as much as the imagined anticipation on a walk-in and the imagined swing of an ice axe – pick-steel sliding into compressed cornice snow. The Mountains call, and soon the comfort and the routine and the words will have had the required effect. Chris M will talk in the morning, blah, blah, blah, twitter will tweet and the internet with churn its diatribe and I won’t be here, I will have left my comfort, my prison cell, because I will have succumbed and then the frustration will be my friend.
The book word-count hit 78358, this morning; it’s a satisfying number, it spells the death of comfort.